Yaoi is a Japanese based term and as such its meaning as well as the meanings of other related words are often misconstrued as people try to 'simplify' the terms to make them easier to understand. The most common misinterpretations include what is and what isn't considered Yaoi and the different meanings of Shōnen-ai throughout history.
Yaoi types and genres Edit
Yaoi is a term for media created in Japan that focuses on the homoerotic relationships between male characters and has heavy sexual content. It is commonly used as a female-oriented term with regard to the genre's demographics, but the genre attracts a male and female audience.
As for the word itself, it stands for Yamanashi, Ochinashi, Iminashi, meaning No climax, no point, no meaning. Though some fans understand it as Yamette! Atashi no Oshiri Itai!, translated: Stop it! My butt hurts! Yaoi was basically a 'parody' of Shõnen-ai that was produced in the 70's and 80's in which people would write sexually explicit fan fictions of mangas that were aimed for (pre-)pubescent girls. Since this form of shõnen-ai mimicked actual shõnen-ai (the action/adventure and comedy mangas marketed towards young boys) it featured mostly male leads/characters.
In the end the parody was meant to poke fun of the fact that this 'new' shõnen-ai was hard to understand for its age group and so yaoi focused on the other half of this, also known as all the good guy on guy action.
Before the term Yaoi was coined there was Shõnen-ai. The first misconception in the term lies in its target audience. Shõnen is marketed for boys between 10-17, with Shõjo being its female equivalent. Yaoi is primarily marketed towards a female audience.
Being targeted towards young males, the genre focuses on the platonic relationships between young male leads. It's meant for the time in a boy's life where he reads a lot of action and adventure oriented stories and as such female characters are normally found on the sidelines instead of in the main cast.
Popular Shõnen-ai titles include; Death Note, Dragon Ball, Naruto, One Piece.
As the term 'Yaoi' was coined from a parody of shõnen-ai that revolved around sexually explicit fan fiction of shõnen-ai titles, shõnen-ai is often seen by yaoi fans as homosexual works of fiction that don't include homoerotic scenes. In basic terms it is falsely considered as homosexual romances without the adult ratings.
What actually defines Shõnen nowadays is the media outlet/time slots it is put out on in Japan, but Shõnen itself was basically comics for young men.
Shōnen-ai (for works created in the 70's & 80's)Edit
In the 70's & 80's the term 'Shõnen-ai' was used to describe a type of Shõjo (anime/manga targeting a young female audience) involving romance between young boys.
The reason shõnen-ai in the 70's & 80's differs from the general use of shõnen-ai is because the term is usually used to describe boy romances rather than the other subject matter within them. Shõnen-ai in the 70's and 80's, while marketed towards a younger audience, was hard to understand for younger readers who didn't have a good grasp on classical literature and weren't able to grasp their deep philisophical themes.
The term Shõnen-ai stopped referring to the genre of Shõjo after the 80's but is still used by Westerners as a differentiation between explict and non-explicit forms of male x male romances.
Tanbi is no longer written. Tanbi is a word meaning 'the worship and pursuit of beauty'. It was used to describe the early male/male stories that mainly ran in June. June was heavily influenced by a well-known author and literary critic who used multiple pen names, so many of the stories utilized a high literary style. These stories came to be called tanbi - stories written for beauty and pursuit of beauty only. Tanbi style includes flowery language and uncommon kanji/words, which makes it a difficult read for foreigners.
The tanbi style is mainly a thing of the past. It has been replaced by BL stories - mass written, easy-to-read stories. Even authors known for their tanbi works like Yoshihara Rieko (Ai no Kusabi) now write mainstream BL and no longer use tanbi style. It's probably because tanbi, like its name, pursues beauty both in language and storyline. It's not simple and fast-paced like the modern BL stories.
Tanbi is like Shõnen-ai, no longer written but important in the evolution of modern BL. It's sometimes is used interchangeably with boys' love by bookstores, but that's an old usage.
Bara is yaoi often by men for men. It features more mature and realistic homoerotic relationships and adult like themes, targeted towards audiences in their 30's or so. The men in these are invariably muscular and “manly” and appeal to male readers who dislike the feminine Bishonen portrayed in BL manga.
June was the term for original works beginning in the 1970s because the magazine 'June' was the first one known for running gay themed manga. June turned into boys love (BL) over time but sometimes it's still used.
Boys' love (BL) is the common term used by the publishing industry to categorize works focusing on male/male relationships marketed at women. Historically these works were referred to as June, but most commercial works are now called BL. Fans in Japan use the term BL meaning Boys' Love, whereas international fans prefer to use Yaoi.
Short for shōtarō complex. It refers to a genre of manga and anime wherein pre-pubescent or pubescent male characters are depicted in a suggestive or erotic manner, whether in the obvious role of object of attraction, or the less apparent role of "subject" (the character the reader is designed to associate with), as in where the young male character is paired with male or male of the same age, usually in a homoerotic manner. Boku no Pico is the most popular anime in this genre.
Other Yaoi Related TermsEdit
This literally means Rotten Girl. Female fans of Yaoi are referred to as Fujoshi.
Same as Fujoshi, though it's a male oriented term - in other words it means a Rotten Boy.
Character that is straight at first.
Beautiful boys. Usually have slender bodies and a bit feminine features.
More heavily-muscled types than the usual slender bishounen. Quite common in the Bara Genre.
It is short for "male pregnancy". This theme is used rarely in commercial manga. Mpreg is a theme used more in doujinshi, fanfiction, and fanart.
Shortening of the word "salaryman" refers to yaoi between two businessmen or salarymen. It's not an official genre.
A young boy usually either under 13 or a prepubescent one.
Seme (also known as Tachi)Edit
A martial arts term brought into the Yaoi vocabulary. It points to the “attacker” or the more dominant person in the coupling. Also referred to as the “top” or the “male” of the relationship. Usually they are more masculine.
Uke (also known as Neko)Edit
The opposite of Seme, Uke specifies the “docile” person, the “bottom” or “female” of the relationship. Typically shown as feminine and graceful males to distinguish them from the Seme.
A character or pairing whose seme/uke role is reversible.
Total seme. A guy who can't be anything other than a seme.
Total uke. A guy who can't be anything other than a uke.
Means "lower dominates upper". The seme is socially subordinate to, or lower-ranking than, his uke. Kouhai-seme/senpai-uke, student-seme/teacher-uke or salaryman-seme/boss-uke are common setups.
A type of relationship usually between the main pairing. The seme is faithful and devoted like a dog (a wanko or hetare wanko) and the uke is temperamental and demanding like a cat (tsundere or an ojou).
Cool, reserved, good-looking, stylish, aloof, doesn't talk much. One of the most common seme types.
Wimpy, meek or undemanding, he may not have the nerve to make the first move, and once things get underway he's probably under the uke's control. Often also wanko. Usually paired with one of the more aggressive uke types.
Devoted and determined, he will fawn on his uke like a puppy and doggedly pursue the uke until he gets him, despite constant rejection. Usually paired with a tsundere or cool beauty uke. Frequently combined with hetare to make a hetare wanko seme, who is both devoted and meek.
Cold, cruel, or sadistic. Loves to torment his uke.
Innocent, usually inexperienced, maybe shy. Often looks like he ought to be uke.
Younger than his uke. Often in a gekokujou relationship, or a mujaki type.
Cheerful, straightforward and upbeat. The most popular type.
Puts the moves on his seme. A good match for a hetare seme, since the relationship might otherwise never get off the ground. Like other forward types of ukes, might be an aggressive submissive.
A rapist. Very rare type.
Beautiful, elegant, and strong-willed. May be arrogant, demanding, or expect to be treated like royalty. Likely to be from a wealthy and/or traditional family. Frequently tsundere.
An uke in his late 20s or older, especially if he is older than his seme.
Surrounded by an entire harem of smitten semes, like a princess with her retainers.
An ordinary uke. Has no distinguishing features.
Older than his seme. Often an oyaji.